According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), about 450,000 traffic collisions across the United States in 2017 involved large trucks, including more than 4,000 fatal crashes and almost 350,000 injury crashes, numbers which continue to rise each year. A portion of these crashes includes flatbed trucks, which are among the most dangerous motor vehicles on the road. Truck accidents create added risk for motorists because of trucks’ large weight and size, which create greater force upon impact. Yet, flatbed trucks increase the risk and make severe injuries and fatal injuries more likely than in accidents that involve other types of trucks.
This guide offers a deeper look at flatbed trucks, the types of dangerous cargo that they carry, causes of flatbed truck accidents, and information about liable parties in flatbed truck accidents. When you take the time to understand flatbed truck accidents, you can avoid causing an accident or suffering injuries when another party causes such an accident.
Characteristics of Flatbed Trucks
Flatbed trucks get their name from their design—a flat trailer bed with no roof or sides. The flat area that carries the cargo serves as a forgiving space to carry oversized cargo and cargo with abnormal shapes. When you are traveling on the road, you might see different sizes of flatbed trucks. Some are the same size as standard semi-trucks, which is 53 feet long; however, most flatbed trucks are approximately 48 feet long. Flatbed trucks come in both rigid and articulated designs. A rigid truck means the trailer directly connects to the cab and does not pivot on a hitching mechanism. Conversely, articulated vehicles have clear pivot points on which the trailer moves when the truck turns.
Although the size of the cab and the length of the trailer vary, the vast majority of flatbed truck trailers are 8.5 feet wide, the maximum legal width mandated by the FMCSA. Trailers widths that exceed the legal maximum must have a permit to travel on public roadways, and they typically must also have signage on the sides and rear of the cargo and trailer that read: “Wide Load.” All large trucks, including flatbed trucks, weigh significantly more than the average passenger vehicle. Most unloaded flatbed trucks weigh about 30,000 pounds and can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds when loaded. This makes them extremely dangerous to others on the road when an accident happens.
Flatbed Trucks Haul All Types of Dangerous Cargo
Companies use flatbed trucks to transport cargo that is too large for a normal semi-trailer, making them a common choice for many types of cargo. Unfortunately, the wide-open nature of flatbed trucks makes even seemingly safe cargo dangerous, especially if it spills. Some common freight you might see on a flatbed truck trailer includes:
Many companies, farms, and businesses that sell large equipment and heavy machinery transport these items on flatbed trucks. In some instances, companies cannot transport equipment without breaking it down into parts. When large commercial jetliners need parts, they are usually transported by flatbed trucks. These loads can cause obstructed views, putting all nearby traffic at risk for accidents. Driving heavy equipment on the road also creates traffic issues that can lead to dangerous accidents.
Construction projects require a variety of materials of all sizes and shapes that don’t easily fit into a regular semi-truck. When you are driving, you might see lumber, metal beams, bricks, and scaffolding on flatbed trucks. Sometimes, entire prefabricated homes, or parts of homes, get transported by flatbed trucks. Flatbed trailers work best to transport these types of items, because cranes, tractors, and laborers can load or unload the trailer from all sides.
Garbage and Debris
Building sites, road construction sites, renovation sites, and other areas sometimes have large pieces of garbage or debris that won’t fit in dumpsters, garbage trucks, or dump trucks. This garbage and debris must be hauled away from worksites by flatbed trucks. Additionally, some companies use flatbed trucks to remove scrap metal from worksites and transport it to recycling facilities.
When you are driving on Florida roads, you may have seen flatbed trucks full of bales of tires. When old tires are dumped in special areas or left in parking lots, some companies collect them, break them down, compress them, and tie about 100 of them together in a bale. Baling tires remove ugly waste areas and reduce the risk of toxic fires. Flatbed trucks haul bales of tires around the state and throughout the country to businesses that repurpose them for a variety of projects, such as road fill and retaining walls.
Trees and Logs
Logging trucks are one of the first types of flatbed trucks regularly used across the United States. When workers remove trees from the forest, they transport them to different parts of the nation for processing at a sawmill or a paper mill. Sometimes, the trees have all of their branches removed, so they are whole logs; other times you might see entire trees. Landscaping companies also haul full-size trees on flatbed trucks, and you might see some Christmas trees on flatbed trailers when you travel outside of Florida. In any case, logs and trees can easily spill onto the road when not securely tied down, resulting in dangerous traffic accidents that often involve more than one vehicle.
Although semi-trucks with covered trailers do occasionally carry super sacks, you will find them on flatbed trucks more often. Super sacks are industrial-strength fabric bags, formally called flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs) that companies and farmers use to transport seeds, nuts, grain, fertilizer, and sand. In fact, when strong rains cause rivers to flood and put cities and towns in danger, flatbed trucks haul super sacks of sand to these areas to build flood barriers or storm surge barriers.
Many Different Causes Can Lead to a Flatbed Truck Accident
Flatbed truck accidents are more likely to result in severe injuries and fatalities than other types of truck accidents, which already have the potential for injury and death. The danger of flatbed trucks lies in the lack of a roof and sides, which leaves little protection between the cargo and other vehicles on the road if cargo spills. Spilled loads from flatbed trucks can cause multi-vehicle accidents or land on nearby vehicles, causing severe accidents. Causes of flatbed truck accidents include:
Improperly Secured Cargo
Before a flatbed truck heads out on the open road, employees or drivers responsible for loading the trailer must properly secure cargo to prevent movement during travel. Although many tools exist to tie down cargo, nylon straps and steel chains are the most commonly used devices. The choice to use a specific device depends on the type of cargo. Heavier cargo needs to be secured with devices that have higher weight limits.
If those who secure a load use the wrong device, make a mistake while securing the cargo, leave tightening mechanisms too loose, or don’t use enough devices, the truck driver and those who share the road with the flatbed truck face the risk of a serious accident. If the flatbed truck makes any quick maneuvers, including quick stops or turns, the load might fall off the flatbed trailer onto the road or other nearby vehicles.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has special rules for securing cargo to help reduce accidents caused by cargo spillage. Trucking companies and owner/operators are responsible for the following:
- Using proper tie-downs. According to the FMCSA, truckers must attach all tie-downs in a way that ensures the cargo stays secure during transport. Tiedowns must also provide edge protection, so sharp edges don’t crush or cut cargo and cause load spillage.
- Properly restraining and placing cargo. Some loads contain items that can roll around easily. The FMCSA requires those who load flatbed trailers to restrain these items with wedges or chocks to prevent movement during transit. Additionally, items that easily roll must be placed directly next to each other so that they cannot roll toward each other during transport.
- Complying with the minimum working load limit of devices. Companies can choose which cargo securement devices they want to use to tie down one piece of cargo or a group of items, but the tie-down device(s) must have a minimum working load limit equal to half the total weight of the cargo.
- Complying with the minimum number of securement devices. The size and weight of the cargo determine the number of tie-downs used, but the FMCSA requires companies to use one tie-down for items less than five feet long and less than 1,100 pounds. Companies must use two tie-downs for larger and heavier cargo.
When flatbed truck drivers are distracted, they can cause a severe and/or fatal accident. The FMCSA permits all truck drivers from using cell phones unless they use a hands-free feature. Drivers can legally only push one button to initiate or end a call. Yet, cell phones are not the only distraction that might lead to a flatbed truck accident. Adjusting the radio, eating, drinking, personal grooming, reaching for something, and daydreaming are all examples of distractions that take a driver’s attention away from the task at hand.
Driving Under the Influence
All truck drivers must adhere to federal law concerning drug and alcohol use. Drivers must undergo random drug and alcohol screenings to ensure that they don’t have drugs in their system and don’t have a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.04, half the legal limit for other drivers. Flatbed trucks sometimes have wide loads, and they can be top-heavy. When an impaired driver cannot control his truck easily, it could result in a rollover collision or other dangerous accident.
Driving While Fatigued
Truck drivers notoriously work long hours and have demanding schedules, which can contribute to drowsy driving or driving while fatigued. The FMCSA estimates that 18 hours without proper sleep impacts the body to the same extent as a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. Even when drivers follow mandatory hours of service requirements, they still might suffer from fatigue. Like controlled substances, lack of sleep can cause drivers to swerve and make it more difficult to respond to other vehicles and hazards on the road.
Poorly Trained/Inexperienced Truck Drivers
Experienced truck drivers often know how to react to dangerous situations, such as loose or shifting cargo, especially during windy and rainy Florida weather. Drivers who haven’t had proper training and haven’t driven for very long can struggle with handling a flatbed truck’s wider and taller loads; these drivers face the potential for rollover accidents, jackknifes, and other dangerous collisions that can lead to a multi-vehicle pileup.
Flatbed Truck Accident Cases Can Have More than One Defendant
If you were in a flatbed truck accident, you may blame the driver for causing the accident, yet liability isn’t that simple in these cases. Many times, trucking companies are partially or fully liable for a flatbed truck accident. With the possibility for multiple defendants, truck accident cases are among the most complex of all personal injury cases. Some examples of scenarios where a trucking company might also be a defendant in a personal injury suit after an accident include:
- The company overloaded a flatbed truck and forced a driver to take the load regardless of its size.
- The company didn’t maintain tiedown devices in proper working order.
- The company didn’t properly train drivers, warehouse workers, or other employees on how to load and secure cargo.
- The company didn’t perform legally mandated preventative maintenance and inspections.
- The company failed to hire qualified truck drivers or adequately train them on how to drive a flatbed truck.
- The company didn’t enforce hours of service regulations or forced drivers to ignore them.
Contact a Qualified Attorney After a Flatbed Truck Accident
If you or a loved one has suffered harm in a flatbed truck accident in Florida, you deserve compensation for your injuries if another party caused the accident. Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you might recover medical expenses and lost wages not covered by Florida PIP insurance, as well as non-economic damages related to your case.
Contact an experienced Florida truck accident attorney as soon as possible to learn about how that can help you in the aftermath of a severe flatbed truck accident.